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I just started 2 weeks ago to learn Korean language (first on Duolingo then I bought a book) and I cannot figure out how to pronounce properly the vowel ㅓ which should be [uh, eo] like the "a" in the sentence "a cat".

The problem I have is that, I think the vowel ㅓ doesn't sound like the "a" in the sentence "a cat".

For the vowel ㅏ, it's easy for me it sounds like the letter "a" in French.

Anybody has a trick for me (a French phonetic would be amazing) or a good english pronounciation for the vowel ㅓ?

Let me know if I'm wrong but it seems that some Korean pronunciations cannot be transliterated correctly from English or French?

Thank you very much

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    As a native French speaker, and beginner in Korean, I thought that ㅓwas quite close to the open "o" sound in French (or, at least, in the French spoken in the parts of France where there is a distinction between open and closed "o"), like in "botte", but that may well be a bad approximation.
    – bli
    Sep 4 at 20:01
  • Isn't the "a" in "the cat" similar to the "a"s in "la chatte"? And Korean "eo" like the English "not" or the French "notre"? I learned them as in "iPad" and "iPod". Sep 25 at 1:52
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I think the vowel “ㅓ” doesn’t sound like the “a” in “a cat.”

Because it doesn’t.

“A cat” sounds [ə kæt] in American English. What you’re referring to would be either [ə]mid central vowel (schwa) or [æ]near-open front unrounded vowel. If you have to choose, /ə/mid central vowel (schwa) is closer, but /ㅓ/ is actually neither of them.

What does /ㅓ/ sound like?

In standard South Korean, /ㅓ/ is often realized as [ʌ̹]open-mid back unrounded vowel with more roundedness, the IPA [ʌ]open-mid back unrounded vowel sound with the right half ring diacritic, ◌̹, to indicate a greater amount of rounding in the lips; in other words, somewhere between [ʌ]open-mid back unrounded vowel and [ɔ]open-mid back rounded vowel in roundedness. /ㅓ/ sounds like [ɔ] with your lips more relaxed (that is, less rounded), and [ʌ] with your mouth being a little bit less open (that is, more rounded).

Try this.

Try pronouncing “thought” (/θɔːt/) in American English. Take the “ough” /ɔ/ sound and loose your tongue and lips a little bit, keeping the “Uhhh”-like sound. Now find the sweet spot, and you get the /ㅓ/ sound.


Vowel diagrams from Wikipedia

Caution: symbols on vowel diagrams are not in IPA.

The vowel diagrams of Korean, General American English, and Parisan French. An explanation on the vowel diagram

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    Thank you so much @Константин Ван it was a very thorough and complete answer. My new mnemonic is to pronounce “thought” (/θɔːt/) in American English and just keep the “ough” /ɔ/ sound. I have been tested it on Google Translate, I installed a Korean keyboard on my smartphone so I can type Korean letters on Google Translate and the Korean vowel ㅓreally souds like the “ough” /ɔ/ sound without having to loose my tongue and lips a little bit. Do you think I should study the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) system? Thank you Константин Ван from Bulgaria :). Sep 1 at 4:02
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    @XavierClapin-Pépin Good to hear that! Well, IPA definitely helps you learn languages (any languages!), especially when you want to get rid of your foreign accents and sound more like native speakers by understanding the phonology of the language. If you think you need that, yes, go for it. Sep 1 at 6:02
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    For what it's worth, I think most Koreans would perceive American English /ɔ/ (as in thought) as an exaggerated ㅗ, not ㅓ. It's probably best if you don't search for the closest sound in other languages you know: even the closest may not be a good enough match.
    – jick
    Sep 1 at 17:04
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    @jick Well, I mean, that’s why I said you’ve got to loose your tongue and lips a little bit from [ɔ] and take some roundedness off the sound. It’s the roundedness that makes it sound like /ㅗ/. Sep 1 at 17:44
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    Right, sorry about being unclear, I was responding to @XavierClapin-Pépin - sounds like they think the "ou" in thought matches ㅓ without any change, which is clearly not the case.
    – jick
    Sep 1 at 18:02

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